cover image Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Other Stories

Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Other Stories

Sharyn McCrumb. Ballantine Books, $22.5 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-345-41493-9

""I grew up seeing the world as an exciting place,"" writes popular mystery writer McCrumb (If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him) in the introduction to her first short story collection. ""The quiet tales of suburban angst so popular in modern fiction are Martian to me."" It shows in these 25 tales, most set either in the Appalachia familiar to her fans or in her mother's ""flatland South""; the title story is a portrait of her father's spartan childhood in rural Tennessee. ""Love on First Bounce,'' written when McCrumb was in high school, introduces feisty Elizabeth MacPherson, heroine of eight later novels. Elizabeth is reading Dorothy Parker when we meet her; so, evidently, was McCrumb, who learns from Parker how to prod her stories along with pointed, dismissive phrases (of a boy-crazy friend: ""She likes to build souls for mysterious strangers; I suppose getting to know someone would spoil the effect""). Fourteen novels haven't dulled McCrumb's wit. A few of these stories are bloodcurdling character studies; others are pervaded with loneliness and despair, and some draw on the legends of her Scottish ancestors. Ordinary housewives, a potential serial killer and isolated, poor mountain folk caught between or straddling cultures are grist for her imagination. Perhaps the best entries in the collection--among them ""Gentle Reader,"" which chronicles the short but profitable epistolary friendship between a popular Southern mystery writer and a mysterious fan--adopt the politely satirical tone of her mysteries and are sure to please her readers (gentle and otherwise). (Sept.)